Dan Hayhurst and Reuben Sutherland must have one of the most unique approaches to live performance of any electronic act currently operating. As Sculpture, they combine the former’s method of sampling tape loops sourced from eBay with the latter’s unique visual approach, which sees Sutherland accompany the sounds with kaleidoscopic patterns spun on a turntable, projected onto a screen behind them. Hayhurst’s tape loops hanging on a rail behind him, he picks them out one by one and feeds the output of his reel to reel through an array of samplers, creating a sound that’s as chaotic, yet colourful, as Sutherland’s psychedelic, almost cartoonish visuals.
Arriving on Daniel Lopatin’s Software label, Membrane Pop is the biggest record to date for the pair, who have been performing together for six years, and have already released a number of records for labels like Dekorder, Digitalis, and patten’s Kaleidoscope. Unlike their live performances, which usually see them stretching out their improvisations to create four or five distinct pieces, Membrane Pop is an album of short, sharp sonic shocks which rarely go above more than a few minutes in length. This brevity is arguably something that helps with their stated intention of making a “coherent, adventurous electronic pop record with its own voice and identity”, keeping each piece bite-sized enough to come back to without the occasionally overwhelming jumble of texture and melody becoming too saccharine.
However, the “pop” of the title is less an attempt to reconfigure their samples into a new form of pop music and more an attempt to find a new way to engage with the idea of experimental music as a whole. “Polymorphic Operator” is about the closest thing you’d get to pop in the traditional sense, featuring the kind of bassline and rhythmic syncopation that brings to mind early ’00s R&B. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine it being dropped in a packed club without many eyebrows being raised. For the most part, Membrane Pop is an album which takes the idea of pop and traps it in tiny pockets of sound that burst into translucent globules, such as on the unpredictable “Materialising” and “Symbolic Molecule”. If there’s a direct pop comparison to be made, it’s in the fascinatingly garish sound of J-Pop, where even melancholy is rendered in effervescent, seizure-inducing tones.
It would be easy to describe what Sculpture are doing as simply another act influenced by the retro sonics of the Radiophonic Workshop and any number of library music composers. Indeed, they cite Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kinsgley as notable influences, and tracks like “Hackle Scan Populator” and “Distraction Display” may have the sort of melodies that evoke that kind of nostalgia, but there’s something much more physical about their sound. The album’s title suggests a liquid form contained within a fragile barrier at risk of bursting, and for the most part that’s what you get; the operatic vocals of “Lingual Junk” struggle to free themselves from a maelstrom of what could be described as experimental gabber, while the sound of “Multi-Faith Capsule” undeniably has its own fluidity. In Sculpture’s world, where sound is molecular and image develops faster than the eye can follow, linear time ceases and a more synaesthesic dimension makes itself known.
If there’s one complaint to be made of Membrane Pop, it’s that as an album, it misses out on Sutherland’s visual aspect, which is at least half the duo’s appeal. However, like Philadelphia’s Chris Madak, whose music as Bee Mask has a chaotic form of clarity, the music of Sculpture complex and celebratory, and is more than detailed enough to allow the listener to fill in their own visual blanks. Speaking to Juno Plus recently, Hayhurst said of the duo’s music: “I want it to be fun, I want it to be exuberant. But I do want to make music that’s quite radical without being dark, and that’s something that I do deliberately.” On listening to Membrane Pop, it’s hard to argue that the duo haven’t triumphantly succeeded in their aim.
2. Multi-Faith Capsule
3. Symbolic Molecule
4. Unhitch Your Program
5. Polymorphic Operator
6. 5 Seconds In The Future Is A You Made Of Pure Thought
7. Hackle Scam Populator
8. Distraction Display
9. Lingual Junk
10. Dance Of Oblate Spheroids (digital only)
11. Instability (digital only)